From remote islands to city escapes, travel experts share their favorite spots
Take advantage of lesser-known destinations to avoid packs of tourists
From pilots to travel photographers, train aficionados to tour guides, these globe-trotting experts have seen the world.
They share their favorite destinations, and why they think they shouldn’t be missed for your next holiday.
1. Find the isolated islands of Wayag, Indonesia
“Wayag has hundreds of thickly forested limestone karsts and islands, resulting in sheltered bays with white sand beaches and coral reefs,” he says.
There aren’t any villages, let alone tourist accommodation, and guests can only really arrive by boat, adds Travers.
“I’d definitely recommend climbing to the lookout point on the western side of the main Wayag Bay. It’s not for the faint of heart (picture a 30-minute ascent through forest and over jagged limestone), but there are the most staggering views of paradise at the end.”
2. Visit Egypt without the crowds
“I’d highly recommend going to Egypt now,” says Geoffrey Kent, founder of Abercrombie & Kent.
“I traveled there at the end of 2015 and it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see these sites with few crowds. For instance, at Abu Simbel, I was in Ramses temple and had it all to myself for a few minutes.
“As I was climbing up the narrow staircase into the center of Cheops Pyramid, there were only a few people that I had to sidestep. It’s a very different experience doing that when the crowds (and heat) are at full force,” says mKent.
3. Bathe in Tbilisi’s Abanotubani District
Move over, Istanbul. There’s a new European city brimming with East-meets-West culture and natural sulfurous waters that give Cagaloglu Baths a run for its money, according to freelance photojournalist Sarah Freeman.
“I suggest visiting the Georgian capital’s bath quarter: Tbilisi’s Abanotubani,” she says.
Situated on the south side of Metekhi Bridge, its low cupolas house baths where water bubbles from the earth at about 90 F (32 C).
“When I went, I sipped on Turkish tea and indulged in a massage by one of the mekise (masseur).”
4. Watch animals in Namibia
“I’d suggest heading to Skeleton Coast, Namibia,” says Lucy Jackson, co-founder and director of Lightfoot Travel.
Wild and eerie, this remote desert “seeps into the soul”, she says.
“I’ll never forget the sight of the Namib Desert sand dunes crashing into the Atlantic Ocean. Flying over the Hoanib River by Cessna, it’s easy to spot giraffes and elephants beneath,” Jackson recalls.
“Afterwards, I always grab a drink on the beach, where water laps at my feet and there’s a shipwreck just behind.”
5. See the Northern Lights in Canada before they go dormant
In 2017, Canada is celebrating its 150th year since Confederation so the country is offering free admission to its national parks for the entire year, says Hannah Tydeman-Klassen, founder and director of Curio Trips.
But as most people flock to the bright blue lakes and snow-capped mountains of Banff National Park, she recommends heading to the Northern Territory of Yukon.
It also provides a chance to catch the world’s greatest natural light show, the Aurora Borealis.
With scientists predicting 2017 as the last year before the Northern Lights enter a dormant phase, “this really is the year to see them,” she says.
6. Find spider monkeys in Minas Gerais
It’s home to the mining heartland of the country and the financial capital Belo Horizonte.
Yet there’s another side to the state where travelers can experience untouched wilderness, a flourishing art scene and delicious cuisine, he says.
“I recommend staying at the restored 18th-century farmhouse Reserva do Ibitipoca.
“From here it’s possible to explore the nearby national park on foot or horseback. Keep an eye out for the exceedingly rare wooly spider monkey – the property’s owners have really focused on conserving the Atlantic Forest, the animal’s home.”
7. See dozy dolphins in Komodo National Park
“I suggest heading to Komodo National Park in Indonesia, where [in a hidden cove] a pod of dolphins rest at night,” says Eddie Widnall, founder of Ultimate Indonesian Yachts.
“There’s nothing quite like sleeping outside on the boat with the sound of the dolphins beneath.”
Then there’s Tomolol in Misool, where it’s possible to swim through cathedral-like caves and stalactites into a blue lagoon with limestone walls, he says.
“Some have century-old paintings while others are coated in orchids and carnivorous pitcher plants.”
8. Visit untouched beaches in Vilanculos, Mozambique
“I didn’t know much of anything about Mozambique before I went,” says Kristin Addis, CEO, Be My Travel Muse.
There was very little online about this coastal country in southern Africa, she says.
“When I traveled there I was blown away by the gorgeous white sand beaches that were mostly free of tourists.
“Each day in Vilanculos, the sand bars appear when the tide goes out. It was great watching fishermen grabbing their catch and locals playing soccer in the sand.”
9. Explore the glaciers and hiking trails of Greenland
When most people think of Greenland, snow and ice comes to mind, says Matthew Karsten, adventure travel blogger and photographer at ExpertVagabond.
But summers are actually quite pleasant along the coast: rolling hills, green tundra, and wildlife everywhere, he says.
“I’d suggest spending a day walking the ice cap near Kangerlussuaq, go on a wildlife safari, or trek for 10 days across Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail,” Karsten adds.
10. Learn to surf at Nosara in Costa Rica
The province of Guanacaste on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast is a haven for surfers, according to ExpertVagabond’s Matthew Karsten.
Many surf towns can be a bit crowded. “That’s what’s great about this place – the small town of Nosara doesn’t get as many visitors,” he says.
The nearby beach of Playa Guiones boasts enough waves to keep both beginners and experts happy.
For non-surfers, yoga classes and horseback riding are popular activities too.
11. Ride the rails between Belgrade and Montenegro
“I think it’s absolutely epic. It summits at over 3,000 feet above sea level in the breathtaking Montenegrin mountains,” he says.
“It’s also an engineering marvel with 254 tunnels and 435 bridges, including the world’s highest railway viaduct,” adds Smith.
And it all costs just $22 a ticket.
12. Discover something wild at Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka
The oldest and largest national park in Sri Lanka, Wilpattu allows travelers to track the elusive leopard and sloth bear, says Skandha Ponniah, marketing manager for SriLankaInStyle.
Even better, it all happens in relative serenity, as the park remains mostly untouched and unknown.
“The roads require four-wheel drives and a driver who knows how to use one, so I’d suggest exploring the area with a tented safari camp such as Kulu Safaris or Leopard Trail,” suggests Ponniah.
“Be sure to park off at the banks of a villu (a shallow natural lake filled with rainwater and surrounded by open grassy plains). Then just wait for the animals to come by for a drink.”
13. Cycle and sample clam chowder in San Francisco
Will Swinburn, senior first officer at British Airways, recommends picking up a bike from one of the many friendly cycle shops in San Francisco.
“Cycling past the ferry building and piers along the harbor gives a great feeling of the maritime history of the city,” he says.
It’s always worth dropping into Pier 39 for a bread bowl of clam chowder and a drink, then heading onwards to the Golden Gate, Swinburn suggests.
“There are many great lookout points en route to take in the bustling bay.
“Cycle down the last bit of the bridge and veer towards the right at the end down the steep hill to Sausalito. This town is beautiful – and the perfect vista point for fog city itself.”
14. Pretend you’re James Bond in Jamaica
“Jamaica is such an amazing destination. There’s stunning scenery, fabulous food and an unbelievable musical history,” says Matt Vlemmiks, head of product and commercial at Elegant Resorts.
Days can be spent hiking in the mountains with a Rastafarian guide who will take travelers to secret waterfalls or off to explore stunning coffee plantations, he adds.
Vlemmiks recommends staying at Strawberry Hill, where guests can see the city’s twinkling lights beyond the mountains while hearing faint reggae beats.
Or head over to Goldeneye to channel James Bond. Ian Fleming used to live where the property is situated and wrote many of the Bond novels there.
15. Discover an eco retreat in Kenya
The property sits on 50,000 acres of land, run and owned by conservationist Jochen Zeitz.
“The retreat is nothing like I have seen before. It’s a place to reflect with nature and solitude, a place where guests learn about the community and Kenya’s wildlife,” adds Karam.
The focus is on a sustainable way of travel using solar energy, recycling and growing food in-house.
“The property educates farmers how not to overgraze, bringing the wildlife back to life by building man-made waterholes and adding rangers to protect the animals from poaching.”
16. Watch baby turtles in Blanchisseuse Beach, Trinidad
Katelyn Smith, founder of The Remote Nomad, suggests heading to Blanchisseuse Beach in Trinidad surrounded by rolling hills and lush palms.
“It’s quite the drive and public transit is not an option, so travelers should make sure to rent a car or have a local driver,” she says.
“The beach itself is a great spot for surfing. Across the road I’d recommend grabbing some ‘bake and shark,’ a popular local dish, along with the local brew, Carib.”
Depending on the time of year, travelers might even get a glimpse of the baby sea turtles hatching, she says.
One tip: Slang is everywhere, even on on public signs. Spot a sign saying “no liming?” It means no “hanging out” or “chilling” in that spot.
17. Catch the sunrise over a whispering volcano
For an extraordinary experience, it’s hard to beat visiting the ninth-century Buddhist monument of Borobudur, says Sophie Marchant, travel editor of LuxuryExplorer.com. Overlooking the Kedu Plain in central Java, “this spot fills me with awe,” says Marchant.
“I stayed at Aman’s Amanjiwo, which I definitely recommend. I woke up at 4 a.m. and climbed the summit for unbelievable views of Kedu as the sun came up over Mount Merapi, a whispering volcano.
“I’d suggest bringing a picnic to eat at the nearby waterfall. My guide (from the hotel) took me there.”
18. Trek through the mountains of India
“I don’t know where all the negativity comes from,” says Headley.
For a different take on the country, Headley recommends experiencing a Shakti stay up in the Himalayas where there are fewer hotels, and more nomadic journeys into the Indian mountains where days are spent adventuring and nights are in a series of base camps under the stars.
“I loved trekking trough through beautiful orchards, treading canyons and stopping to take in and admire the Buddhist temples with giant gold statues dotted around the landscape.”
19. Sleep under the stars in Kenya
Nicky Brandon, director of sales and marketing and Africa travel expert for Ker & Downey, advises heading to Kenya’s Northern Frontier for a truly off-the-beaten-track journey.
She recommends a stay at Sasaab. In addition to game drives, travelers can go quad biking, ride camels and do safari walks.
“I believe the village visit here is the most authentic and genuine experience. Go way out and sleep under the stars at a private fly camp.
“Also keep an eye out for the Samburu Special Five: reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, Somali ostrich and beisa oryx,” says Brandon. These animals are unique to this region in Kenya.
20. Go for a peaceful walk in Victoria Peak, Hong Kong
People don’t really think of walking in Hong Kong, but the city’s great for it, says Charlie Stewart-Cox, Cathay Pacific general manager for South Asia, Middle East and Africa.
There are fantastic hiking tracks and mountain paths – both inside and out of the city, says Stewart-Cox.
“I particularly enjoy a soothing walk on Lugard Road, Victoria Peak. Sections of the path are on the cliffside, meaning it offers the best views of the Hong Kong skyline,” he says.
The entrance for Lugard Road is adjacent to the Peak Tower.